The Poppy War Series – Book 1
“I have become something wonderful, she thought. I have become something terrible. Was she now a goddess or a monster? Perhaps neither. Perhaps both.”
So what’s the book about?
As a war orphan, young Rin is at the mercy of her opium-smuggling foster parents and has only one goal: to pass the difficult exam that will secure her a place at the renowned academy in the capital Sinegard. When she is accepted, she thinks she has reached the goal of her dreams, but this turns out to be a misjudgement. Among the high sons and daughters who have been prepared for the academy since childhood, she is the outsider and finds it difficult to find her place among the students, even though she performs well. She has to fight to assert herself and finds all her own methods, supporters and a talent she never expected. But war is just around the corner, Rin has to go to the front and encounters cruelties that will change her soul forever.
Why I wanted to read this series?
As I mentioned in my ‘We Ride the Storm’ review, I’m a big fan of Asian cultures, so I’m even more pleased that Asian-inspired fantasy stories are very popular these days. This was one reason why I wanted to read this series in the first place. The other, of course, is that this book has a huge fanbase and so I’ve had the book brought to my attention time and time again on various platforms. And I can already spoil it, I am more than happy about that. As a final point, I can definitely say that I wanted to read this series because I haven’t read any military fiction yet and wanted to get to know this subgenre through the book.
These aspects attracted me the most while reading.
- I found Rin’s character very authentic, considering the circumstances in which she grows up. She also has to deal with oppression, racism and discrimination again and again as the story progresses. But after every humiliation, Rin stands up again. She wants to succeed with all her might and sometimes goes extreme and not always comprehensible ways to do so. In the course of the story, she becomes more and more a person who will stop at nothing to achieve anything. And that’s exactly what I liked about Rin. She is not a person you would probably like in real life, but that is what makes her so exciting to read.
- What I liked most about this book was the worldbuilding – both in terms of content and craft. The world is fictional, but you could still see many parallels to real history. The fact that I was never overloaded with information probably also contributed to this enthusiasm. Social structures, history, religion, value systems and political entanglements are explained in a well-dosed way. Descriptions and explanations are always intelligently linked to the plot. Especially during Rin’s training, these parallels from the real world were drawn again and again, which put you even better into Kuang’s world.
- The story starts out as a typical training story, but you soon realise that the author actually wants to say something completely different with her story. A lot of cruelty is described and the author doesn’t mince her words. The way the themes of war, battle, betrayal, brutality and cruelty are described is really extraordinary. Since I like brutal stories, this did not put me off, on the contrary, it was precisely these aspects that I liked.
- While reading, I had to fight tears again and again towards the end. Because no character is free of faults, Rin is repeatedly put to a hard test – towards her people and also towards her friends. These countless hurdles that Rin has to overcome also had a strong impact on me.
- The development of the war was always surprising and shocking for me. The war is not glossed over, which makes it feel even more real. I had the feeling of being in the middle of it all, Kuang described everything so tangibly. Moreover, it is not as if there is a solution to every dicey situation, but that one simply has to reckon with losses. War is something repulsive, and that is how it is described here.
So what are my final thoughts about it?
I was not convinced by the first part of the book. It seemed like the story of “The Magicians Guild”, only dubbed over into the Asian setting. Also her master seemed like a copy of Elodin from “The Name of the Wind”. It wasn’t until the second part that I was really captivated by the book. It was no longer about the generic dealing with the school story, but about the war between two countries. And it is precisely this part that makes this book. There is an atmosphere of combativeness, which I have never encountered in a book before. This gloomy setting, which I experienced from the second part onwards, captivated me so much that I had to finish reading it immediately. And I can already give a little spoiler for the review of the second volume, it remains dark and only gets better in this aspect. But especially the end of the book could convince me very much, because it was very critical of the main character and thus the deeds did not remain uncommented.
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